August 12, 2018

Clever Young Forger Meets His Day of Reckoning

John Frye was a well-liked, 20 year-old who came to Prescott and got a job as a correspondence clerk at the Prescott State Bank.

In mid-February, 1918, he informed people that he had received a telegram notifying him "that his aunt who had raised him was seriously hurt in an automobile accident, requesting him to come to Seattle immediately."

In fact, this was a ruse. Frye was attempting to evade the police before an act of embezzlement in Seattle caught up with him. Additionally, he was planning another caper in New York City where he would walk out of local banks there with the equivalent of $500,000 today.

Less than a year prior, "Frye who was both bookkeeper and stenographer in (a) Seattle bank, ...announced he had decided to come east to find better chances of advancement in the banking business. His Seattle employers told him sincerely they were sorry to lose his services and wished him luck as he left them." For reasons unknown, he decided to locate in Prescott.

"He had scarcely gone from Seattle when it was discovered he had taken $600 ($15,000 today) of the firm's money," but his whereabouts were unknown.

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"He the Prescott State bank...with forged letters of recommendation and was put to work as correspondence clerk in the bank. His good looks, boyish cheerfulness and energy in a short time had won for him warm regard on the part of his new employers."

He began work in June, 1917. Early the following February "he wrote 3 letters to big banks (in New York) which (had) relations with the Prescott bank. In each of the letters he told the New York banking men that a man named John A Frye...would visit (them) and would present checks and drafts. The Prescott bank, he wrote, would honor the paper of their 'customer,' Mr. Frye." He also stated that he would present a duplicate of this correspondence when he arrived.

"To this letter Frye forged the signature of Cashier Derrick of the Prescott State Bank. The signature, so it was experts at the Pinkerton Natioanl Detective agency...was one of the best pieces of forged penmanship they have ever come upon."

"Frye arrived in New York February 15th. Immediately he showed he was clever in other things beside penmanship. First he went to one of the banks...and displayed a draft on the Anglo-London and Paris bank of San Francisco for $15,000" as well as the promised duplicate letter.

He "made the pen work so natural that 2 banks which handled the paper passed it on as genuine." The New York banks "deeming the signature of Cashier Derrick of Prescott to be genuine, hastened to oblige young Frye. In what size bills did the visitor want his $15,000?"

"'Oh I don't wish to draw $15,000,' young Frye interupted, 'I have use for only $11,000 now, and unless things turn out differently than I expect, the $11,000 is all I'll need while in town.'"

"That first refusal to accept all of the $15,000 doubtless convinced the first cashier that Frye was all that he should be. Crooks don't refuse $4000 when proffered to them. But evidently 'things turned out differently,' because before the end of the next day the youth, still using his forged letter, had visited all three banks. And some time late on February 16th he left Manhatten with a total haul of $28,000 in his suit case" less $600 "which he had used to make good his embezzlement in Seattle" by sending it back to them. (Frye thought the New York banks could absorb the loss more easily.)

"When the banks in Manhatten learned that they had been defrauded, they told their troubles to the Pinkerton agency. The police department was also notified."

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"While detective(s)...were trying to locate Frye in the general neighborhood of Manhattan, the Pinkertons set their operatives in many cities to work on a simple plan of campaign which 'the Pinks' have found by long experience often works effectively."

"One of the first things which comes to the mind of a detective who has had experience with crooked bank employees is that, if they run true to form, they immediately will seek a bank or safe deposit vault in the place in which they decide to hide and deposit the cash (there)."

"Consequently one of the first things the Pinkerton men did...was to send photographs and descriptions of the Frye lad, with instructions to their operatives in all cities to look out for the 20 year-old youth who had a fondness for depositing bigger sums than boys of that age usually lay claim to."

It was the  Pinkerton agency in Providence, RI that learned that "a youth answering the description of Frye had come to town and deposited more than $25,000 in a local bank to the account of 'Charles Bantum.'" The Pinkerton office "looked up young 'Mr. Bantum' and found that he and the youth photographed as Frye were identical." All they could learn about the young man was that "he had a sizable bank account and was living quietly in an apartment" there.

The next morning, Pinkerton agents knocked on the door. Frye called them to come in. "They found him sitting up in bed trying to rub the sleep out of his eyes."

When he was confronted with the identical image of the forger, Frye calmly said: "'You win' he saw the picture in the Pinkerton man's hand."

"Most of the money is on deposit here, so the banks in New York will not lose much," Frye explained. "And there's $400 in the top drawer of the bureau here. I paid back the $600 I took from the Seattle bank. I'll dress and go with you."

After he took off his bed clothes, he placed his right hand under his pillow. Frye then "turned about and sat on the edge of the bed...his bare feet on the floor." It took only a sigh for him to consider his future prospects.

"And then his right hand and arm moved quickly. From beneath the pillow suddenly came his hand. The officers jumped forward as they saw the quick movement."

In Frye's hand was an automatic pistol. Before the Pinkerton agents could reach him, he placed the muzzle firmly to his head and, as the newspaper described it: "blew his brains out."

Case closed.

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Weekly Journal Miner, 3/6/1918; Pg. 3, Col. 7.
Weekly Journal Miner, 4/17/1918; Pg. 4, Col. 3. 
Weekly Journal Miner, 3/13/18; Pg. 4, Col. 1. 

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